Protect People and Profits while Thriving in an Uncertain Market
For more than a decade, companies in the distribution and fulfillment (D&F) sector have been adapting to steady, predictable increases in the adoption of e-commerce business models. Many of these companies had also developed long-term plans to scale up their technological investments incrementally to match anticipated online demand. But with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many of these well-laid plans have been turned on their head.
Seemingly overnight, D&F operations experienced significant operational disruptions and an unexpected spike in e-commerce orders — accelerating to rates not previously anticipated for several years. Simultaneously, health concerns brought heightened scrutiny to operational safety and the imperative to protect employee well-being and confidence. As a result, distribution center (DC) managers across the retail spectrum have implemented new protocols, practices and processes to simultaneously enhance workplace safety and adapt to high order volumes.
The combination of demand spikes and new workplace safety requirements created a perfect storm of D&F challenges. Retailers and critical supply chain companies that were considered essential businesses quickly discovered the complexities of this rapidly changing D&F landscape. Many soon realized that they were unprepared to manage the influx of consistently high order volumes while addressing emerging safety considerations within DC environments.
But necessity is the mother of invention. Many retail and supply chain leaders have quickly adapted by creating operational strategies that other retailers can adopt to improve their abilities to survive — and thrive — in this uncertain and demanding market.
Protecting People and Places
The most critical priority for any D&F operation is to protect their essential workers and take the necessary steps to promote a safer working environment. An illness outbreak in a facility could have devastating impacts to both human life and operational continuity. From the moment workers enter a facility to the time they complete their shifts, DC managers can implement a variety of technologies to help them enhance workplace safety and maintain worker confidence.
Contact-less Building Access
Non-intrusive facial recognition and thermal scanning technologies allow workers to gain hands-free building access while enabling operators to detect elevated body temperatures of employees reporting for work. The Honeywell ThermoRebellion™ solution utilizes powerful artificial intelligence (AI) software to process individual pixels captured by its camera and quickly identify elevated skin temperatures.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Making PPE available for each DC worker is vital to meeting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) workplace safety guidelines and instilling confidence in your essential workforce. Honeywell offers a wide range of PPE, including customizable, individual-use PPE Safety Packs to encourage the use of masks, gloves and wipes in DC environments.
Mobile Device Tracking Integration
When equipped with smart software and device-tracking capabilities, commonly used scanners, printers and voice-directed systems can help DC managers implement new safety protocols, including:
- Compliance with social distancing
- Providing cleaning/hygiene instructions
- Device check-out/check-in management
Honeywell’s suite of DC mobility devices and Honeywell Voice can be configured to perform these critical safety tasks by monitoring device proximity and issuing social distancing alerts. These proven tools also enable remote communication among team members and provide productivity enhancements.
Building Monitoring and Analytics
Creating a healthier DC environment improves the well-being, confidence and productivity of essential workers on the warehouse floor. DC operators need intelligent facility monitoring and analytics tools designed to help enhance various factors contributing to workplace safety — from clean air recirculation, ventilation and filtration to frictionless access and occupancy monitoring. Honeywell Healthy Buildings solutions and Honeywell Forge software provide workplace analytics that deliver visibility to facility trends, real-time safety alerts and data on worker procedure compliance.
Driving Labor Productivity
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, finding, training and retaining qualified labor were frequently cited as the single greatest collective challenge (and operational expense) for D&F companies. These resourcing challenges have only gotten worse in 2020, as increased competition for labor and rising wages present daily barriers to meeting throughput and profitability targets. As e-commerce adoption exceeds previous industry projections, DC managers need to leverage tools and technologies designed to drive productivity, keep pace with rising consumer demands, and address new safety protocols.
Labor Management Software
Maintaining a stable, productive workforce is essential for DC operational success. Modern labor management software (LMS) has become an indispensable tool for increasing productivity and safety, managing and measuring employee engagement, and retaining top-performing employees. An LMS helps DC managers build a culture of productivity while giving them the insights to make informed labor allocations based on order volume, available resources and customer service level agreement (SLA) priorities.
GoalPost® LMS from Honeywell Intelligrated allows DC managers to implement incentive-based performance programs designed to reinforce safety procedures while achieving productivity targets. Patented algorithms can detect behaviors that would indicate the potential for employee turnover, so DC managers can take action to retain top performers or proactivity replace them.
Voice and Mobility Devices
Voice-directed systems, handheld scanners and printers have become integral mobility devices used in modern D&F operations. While these tools have provided productivity enhancements for decades, today they can also be leveraged to promote proper cleaning instructions, social distancing recommendations and device check-out/check-in tracking.
Honeywell’s suite of productivity products and Honeywell Voice devices are designed with disinfectant-ready housings (DRHs), which utilize plastics capable of withstanding frequent cleaning with harsh disinfectants without compromising their lifespan. In addition, Honeywell Voice can be configured to provide periodic cleaning instructions (e.g., at the beginning/end of each shift).
Remote Maintenance and Training
Considering the CDC’s social distancing recommendations, in-person maintenance assistance and workplace training may not always be viable options for many DC operations. However, modern augmented reality technologies, video-enablement tools and distance-learning modules can augment these critical functions and keep operations running at maximum capacity.
Honeywell Intelligrated offers TechSight video-enablement services and optional smart glasses to enable remote audio and video collaboration with experienced support experts who can provide step-by-step instructions and augmented reality overlays. In addition, the I-Campus distance-learning system allows key DC staff members to continue their career development at their own pace and access training courses that will allow them to excel at their jobs.
As more consumers embrace contact-less, online fulfillment options, companies across the retail spectrum face prolonged spikes in e-commerce order volumes and the added pressure to shorten fulfillment windows. In both DC and retail store environments, these emerging demands exposed weaknesses in companies’ current e-fulfillment capabilities and introduced concerns about meeting ever-increasing SLAs.
At the same time, DC and retail store managers were tasked with implementing comprehensive facility and enterprise-wide workplace safety measures aimed at improving worker (and customer) confidence and well-being. Market leaders are seeking new tools to manage these intensifying challenges and better optimize operations for future success. These companies are evaluating advanced automation technologies and software to improve fulfillment capabilities, increase productivity, and enhance safety in an uncertain marketplace.
In today’s labor market, retailers are finding it more difficult than ever to fill undesirable and potentially unsafe jobs, such as repetitive picking, packing and palletizing tasks. It is also becoming more evident that DC throughput and productivity expectations are outpacing the limitations of manual labor. Preparing for inevitable increases in future demand will require augmenting the labor force with robotics technology and automated workflows.
Robotics can be integrated into a variety of DC processes to reduce the reliance on manual labor to drive both productivity and safety. From palletizing/depalletizing and articulated arm picking to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), Honeywell has robotics solutions to augment and automate a wide variety of traditionally manual workflows.
Voice-enabled Devices and Analytics Software
For decades, voice technology has been used in DC environments to boost productivity and accuracy while making fulfillment operations more efficient. Combined with analytics-driven insights, this flexible solution can now serve the safety and productivity needs of modern D&F requirements. Honeywell Voice provides advanced data collection, automated documentation and analytics capabilities that allow DC managers to optimize workforce productivity while reinforcing compliance with new safety protocols. By assigning unique devices or assets to specific users, DC managers can utilize Honeywell Voice software to create a chain of custody that enables device and/or contact tracing data, should the need arise.
Micro-fulfillment Center (MFC) Strategies
Micro-fulfillment center strategies are rapidly emerging to help retailers shorten the distance between traditional fulfillment centers and their customers. These highly automated, higher-density, small-footprint MFCs can be utilized in stand-alone facilities, installed in dark stores or warehouses, or deployed within existing retail stores to address in-store, e-fulfillment models like click-and-collect or direct-to-consumer delivery. Honeywell Intelligrated combines robust automation equipment, robotics and advanced warehouse execution software to help retailers deploy micro-fulfillment strategies all across the retail spectrum.
DC Monitoring, Control and Visibility
Considering the confluence of concerns related to employee safety and fulfillment productivity, every DC operator needs the ability to monitor every aspect of their facility, its people and key assets in real time, including:
- Environmental climate quality control and building ventilation
- Flow of people and awareness of facility occupants
- Management of safety, security and building management systems
- Smart control of access, intrusion and incident response
Honeywell Building solutions, powered by Honeywell Forge analytics software, give DC operators a centralized dashboard view of key facility metrics while enabling autonomous building automation and control. This solution also provides access controls for monitoring and recording the movement of devices and the potential for mobility device tracking throughout the facility.
Data-driven Insights Into Asset Performance
Historically, the D&F sector has been slow to recognize the importance of operational data for driving continuous DC performance improvements, increasing system reliability, and transitioning to predictive maintenance programs. But in today’s environment, many DC operations are accelerating their digital transformations by implementing connected, internet of things (IoT) infrastructures and leveraging the wealth of operational data found in equipment control systems.
Connected Assets from Honeywell Intelligrated is designed to help DC operators transition to a data-driven paradigm by giving them access to actionable insights pertaining to asset condition and/or related processes. The system notifies stakeholders of any issues that could potentially impact operations; provides trend analysis that could predict and prevent unplanned downtime; and uncovers opportunities to drive higher asset utilization and associated system productivity levels.
Intelligent Warehouse Execution
As order fulfillment cycle times continue to shrink, DC managers need warehouse execution systems (WES) and automation software capable of orchestrating nearly every aspect of the order fulfillment lifecycle — from disparate automation systems and integrated processes to labor management, workload balancing and real-time decision-making.
Momentum WES from Honeywell Intelligrated is equipped with advanced data science capabilities — such as machine-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence — to factor in all variables and give DC managers the decision intelligence to oversee various order priorities and address dynamic fulfillment demands. Whether you need to integrate a robotics cell, add an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), or deploy a new micro-fulfillment center, Momentum is designed to provide a single, unified platform for enabling advanced automation in complex DC environments.
Prepare for an Uncertain Future
Adapting to this rapidly changing landscape will require retailers to utilize all available tools, technologies and fulfillment strategies to help protect the safety and well-being of their workforce and maintain peak productivity levels. As a full-service technology provider with deep domain expertise and interdisciplinary solutions, Honeywell Intelligrated is uniquely equipped to help retailers build a foundation for success and prepare for an uncertain future.
We’re ready to help you create a workplace where your employees can thrive and your operations can meet ever-increasing productivity targets — so you can move forward with the confidence knowing that you can adapt to whatever the future may bring.
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